“We Must Search for the Light”

Heliotropic

by Todd Davis

In the evening light the dove’s undersides
look yellow, and the bush that grows along
the porch has flowers red as a tanager’s back.

At dinner, hummingbirds come to press needle-
beaks into trumpet-blossoms, the music
of their work drowning our conversation.

Why would anyone forsake this gospel of beauty?
Consider the bees covering the heads of sunflowers,
the sunflowers turning to follow the light.

When the world is pink, and the sun has begun
to sink to the other side of the earth, we walk
into fields tall with goldenrod to pick the daisies

my grandmother called moon-pennies, until the dark
makes it hard to see, and we must search for the light
glowing in the windows of the house to guide us home.

from In the Kingdom of the Ditch
Michigan State University Press, 2013

Todd Davis, who writes with such infectious delight of the natural world, perfectly captures that time of evening when the light of sunset makes everything around us seem suddenly transcendent and otherworldly. Yet his question—”Who would forsake this gospel of beauty?”—grounds us in the present, tethers us to the actual earth. He seems to ask: Who would not choose to take in and worship this beauty that is always at hand. With lush descriptions, he also urges us to pay closer attention to the bees, sunflowers, tanagers, and daisies, all of which are “heliotropic,” turning or growing toward the light in their own ways. We too, he rightly implies, are heliotropic, not only in the sense that we need the sun to survive, but also because “we must search for the light” in our own lives by naming the things that most please us. We do this by noticing the smallest changes in the city or landscape or people we see every day, and writing it down or pointing it out to others so we might remember. In this poem, we see Davis noting how “the dove’s undersides/ look yellow” in the changed light of evening, and how he and his family let their conversation fade in order to listen to the insistent flutter of the hummingbird as it feeds on those “trumpet-blossoms” near the porch. It is in this quiet way that we come to feel at home in our world, Davis implies, guided toward gratitude for all we have at each day’s end.

—James Crews